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Maintaining a healthy digestive system is all about balance. Probiotics contain the good bacteria that live in our bodies naturally, but that can become depleted or knocked out of balance by a lot of factors that occur in our daily lives. Some common issues that can cause imbalance in the digestive system include illness, taking antibiotics, a poor diet, or other issues that cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria.

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Long before people were able to take supplements containing this so-called good bacteria, cultures recognized the importance of using fermented foods in their culinary traditions. The earliest record of fermentation dates back as far as 6000 B.C. in the area historically known as the Fertile Crescent, which is the region of lower Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The process of fermentation ushered in a new era of experimentation with preserving food that eventually spanned to cultures around the world.

At the most basic level, good bacteria keeps you healthy and balanced by supporting your immune function and keeping inflammation down. Certain types of good bacteria, commonly found in probiotics, can help your body digest food, keep bad bacteria from getting out of control and making you sick, create vitamins, breakdown and absorb medications, and support the cells lining your gut to keep bad bacteria at bay.

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While more research is needed there is evidence to support the use of probiotics in treating diarrhea, constipation, some of the discomfort that comes with irritable bowel syndrome, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation and allergies. It is considered safe for most healthy people to take probiotic supplements but it is advisable to check with your healthcare provider before choosing a supplement.

Fermented foods contain probiotics, think yogurt and pickles, and drinks such as kombucha or kefir. When you are shopping for food, be sure to check labels for the phrase “contains live and active cultures.” This is the indicator that the good bacteria you are craving is included. Many people turn to probiotic supplements as a way to consistently introduce the good bacteria in a convenient form and higher concentration than food alone.

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When adding probiotics to your wellness routine it is vital to maintain a healthy mix of foods rich in nutrients and fiber (if allowable) as probiotics rely on fiber to grow and balance the body. There are many different strains of probiotics, each with their own benefits to suit the unique needs of individual bodies. It can be helpful to keep track of how you feel while taking a probiotic supplement to ensure that you are addressing your body’s unique needs.

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